Although Suze Orman has written more than a dozen books in the past 25 years, her favorite thing to read is people.
She reads millennials taking 30-year mortgages on properties they cannot afford, and she reads 50- and 60-year-olds holding houses only because their adult children come home twice a year for vacation.
She reads guys who are not electric vehicle rental companies. cars and she reads middle class and working class women who buy jewelry and spend a lot on clothes.
Trusting your husband with money is another thing she just can't handle. "Women can fake orgasms," she said during a series of interviews last week. "Men fake their finances."
Not that she knows from personal experience. Orman, whose wife, K.T. Travis, who runs her business, loves to tell people that she is a "68-year-old virgin."
When the economy is good, Orman's business does well. But your bust is her boom.
That's when she emerges as the personal finance equivalent of Harvey Keitel's character in "Pulp Fiction": the smooth, self-assured fixer who saves the day when two unhappy gangsters end up with a dead guy in the back of a car.
It will stand over you, telling you how to clean the blood from the seat, but you will do the job yourself. When he is finished, she will sprinkle him with water and send him with clothes that cost less, cleaning up the illusion of being a big shot.
Last Wednesday, Orman was sitting in the living room of the Bahamas home, where he has lived mainly since 2015, teaching a virtual master class in conjunction with 92nd Street Y. She wore trademark gold earrings that she has worn since 1990, a black Mackage leather and cotton jacket ("eight or ten years" and "less than $ 500," she noted) and a pair of brown 141 Eyewear glasses.
Travis stayed outside and Orman argued – what else? – manage money during the coronavirus pandemic. She gave lots of advice and continually lamented that more people don't listen to her until it's too late.
"You've heard me say for years that you need an eight-month emergency fund," she said. "If you had an eight-month emergency fund, you wouldn't be frightened to pay your mortgage, your rent, your bills or anything. But most of you don't. You received $ 150,000 in one year, $ 200,000, which whatever it is, and your bills were exorbitant because you know and i know i was spending more money than i had come in and now, maybe for the first time in your life, you still have all these bills that need to be paid, you don't have money to pay them and is totally scared. ”
Orman speaks in superlatives and ends with big gestures. She loves a rhetorical question to which the answer most often is "no".
Do you want to get her approval for a two-week tour of Australia?
Do you want to take out a big loan so that you can buy a house just to return it?
"She is a pessimist," said David Zaslav, a friend, president and chief executive of Discovery Communications. “Most of the financial market is driven by commissions and by convincing you to do more by spending more, and Suze is a great voice as an equalizer. And when the 2008 financial crisis came, the people who heard Suze were fine. They were not buying houses that they could not afford, they were not over-leveraged ".
Now, Zaslav guessed, Orman is reconnecting to America because of a pandemic in which "all of our lives have gotten smaller, with it emerging as the irritating conscience that we cannot get rid of". This personality, he noted, developed from his own history of reduced circumstances.
Orman grew up with two older brothers on the south side of Chicago. His mother was a secretary who sold Avon cosmetics for extra money. His father owned a chicken hut that he burned twice. He had no insurance and lost everything. "One catastrophe after another," she said.
After high school, Orman went to the University of Illinois, Champaign and graduated in 1976 with a degree in social work. She moved to Berkeley, California, where she borrowed $ 50,000 to open a restaurant.
It didn't work because the money evaporated after she handed it over to a Merrill Lynch broker, who used it to trade speculative options, she said.
This taught Mrs. Orman a few things. First, investors who do not understand what is being done with their money are likely to lose it. Second, that if the idiot she trusted was able to get a job in finance, so was she.
Soon, she received her own finance training at Merrill Lynch. She became an account executive, specializing in retirement planning. In 1983, she moved to Prudential as vice president.
"What really is a false term," she said, "because it only has to do with how much commission you make, but that is beside the point."
Four years later, she left to start her own consulting firm, Suze Orman Financial Group.
There, she began writing and distributing financial advisory booklets to clients. They seemed to love them. Then she found a literary agent, Linda Mead, and presented her with an idea for a book on long-term care insurance.
Mead thought the subject was very bleak. She advised Orman to make a more general financial advice book for boomers.
Few publishers were interested, but Orman managed to strike a $ 15,000 deal with a small house, Newmarket Press, whose publisher, Esther Margolis, had worked with Jacqueline Susann and saw Orman's similar ability to connect with women than other publishers. ignored. .
Orman visited the country and went to the second quarter, the sister channel of QVC. When the book "You won, don't lose", became a best seller, she met a better known agent, Amanda Urban, known as Binky.
It was love at the first bite.
First, she walked into Urban's office and was impressed with the way she chewed someone over the phone. Urban told her to lose 30 pounds.
For Mrs. Orman, that was a sign that she would keep it real.
Orman then told Urban some things. First, she was a lesbian, which she worried might prevent her from becoming a brand personality. Second, that she couldn't write.
Urban was thrilled. "Finally," she said, "an author who knows she can't write!"
In 2002, Orman was organizing his own Saturday night program on CNBC, where he received calls from viewers who asked for permission to buy things they knew they couldn't afford.
"Are you kidding me?" she would say. “This is the most stupid idea I've ever heard. "
When they didn't take her advice and ended up badly, Orman was understanding. But she never hesitated to say "I told you so".
The driver knows
"You want to know about a rich person," said Orman last week. "Talk to the driver."
She has one for each city in which she has lived.
Andy Siegel, 57, leads her through Miami. He directed Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Diana Ross and Rod Stewart, but says that Orman is the only person who has become a real friend.
"You have to deal with celebrities with kid gloves, but she makes it easy," he said. "You just need to do what she wants you to do and everything is fine."
This means "never look at your phone when you have it, because it will be the last time you will drive it. And never, ever, go through a yellow light."
After Orman and Travis sold properties in New York and Miami and moved to the Bahamas full-time, Siegel continued to serve as a kind of valet, transporting food and goods for her that she cannot obtain locally.
His diet, he said, is almost compulsively healthy. No sweets, no alcohol. She doesn't even approve of coffee, although it has less to do with blood pressure problems than the amount of money people spend on it at Starbucks.
"It's not even the coffee they're buying – it's status and a place to go," she said, noting that $ 100 a month placed in a retirement account accumulating 10% a year for 40 years (the last seven were 14.3 percent) would bring a person $ 560,000.
Ayanna Benjamin, 36, preferred Dunkin & # 39; Donuts. It was there that she went daily before appearing in one of a series of videos that Orman made with survivors of domestic violence, in a project produced by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Avon. When the recording ended, Orman told Benjamin to keep in touch.
"She asked me to email her, but no one contacted her to send me her email," said Benjamin in an interview.
A few months later, she received an invitation to go and see Mrs. Orman at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. There, Benjamin was taken behind the scenes. The first words that came out of Orman's mouth were, "Why didn't you send me an email?"
Within weeks, they were texting regularly.
Orman bought Benjamin a coffee machine and sent it to his home. When Benjamin followed her advice to stop spending more on clothes, Orman sent two jeans that she said were great and would last a long time. "Gap, I think," said Orman.
When Benjamin went to City College. Orman paid off his student loan. When Benjamin graduated, Orman and Travis were in the audience.
Orman and Benjamin have a good number of fights.
"Suze's problem is that she knows how to make $ 20," said Benjamin. "She knows how to make money and, if you don't listen, it will make you feel. When I'm bad, she hangs up and I know. She doesn't have it."
Celebrities also receive free advice.
In 2008, Orman stepped in to help Kathy Griffin when a bad manager manipulated her money. Griffin later connected her to Sia.
Orman has occasionally failed. In 2012, she presented her own debit card. It was called Approved and aimed at people who were unable to obtain credit. There were fees, but lower than other cards attached to celebrities. Still, it was plundered by one: $ 2 per call to customer service representatives. The venture lost money – $ 4 million, according to Orman – and the card was discontinued two years later.
"It was so sad," she said.
Protecting your & # 39; peeps & # 39;
One of Orman's greatest mantras is that no one should retire until they are 70.
She's still 13 months away from that, but when she and Travis moved to the Bahamas, it signaled that she was slowing down a bit.
The "only thing to do," she said in an interview before the Y appearance, "was fish".
It made her happy for a while. Especially when she started to beat all these butch guys at the wahoo competitions. But eventually people started saying, "Suze do this", Suze do this ", and the answer, she said, was" why not? "
In February, she published another book: "The Definitive Retirement Guide for over 50 years: Winning strategies to make your money last a lifetime".
Then the coronavirus pandemic occurred and it ended up being as much in demand as Lysol cleans and rescues dogs.
Some of Orman's advice has changed since the Great Recession a decade ago. The coronavirus led her to believe that having an emergency fund for food and health care is more important than worrying about debt. That is why she is telling people with financial problems to pool their money and reserve it for emergencies, regardless of the damage this may do to the FICO score.
"Do you believe Suze Orman is telling you to 'use your credit cards?' she said in "Today". “And pay only the minimum amount due. You can even call the credit card companies and ask them to expand your credit limit. "
Those who are in a slightly better position often ask Mrs. Orman what to do about her actions. Once upon a time, Orman was a municipal bond evangelist and opponent of the stock market. But that changed as interest in them dropped to "almost zero", as she said.
So Orman's recommendation now is the average dollar cost on the stock market: buying a little each month, mostly in index funds, regardless of whether the markets go up or down.
It turns out that this is not her plan for her own money. She bought a large number of shares between February and March and did what she said was a "serious amount of money".
Then, when she became convinced several weeks ago that the market was overbought, she sold most of them.
"But you need to remember," she said from the Bahamas, "most of my peeps only have money in 401 (k) & # 39; or I.R.A.s." They are in index funds. If they leave, they will never come back.
And she said, "I don't need the money on the market. This is not true for my peeps."
Nor will he enter into speculative negotiations, investing money in Royal Caribbean, which traders of the day killed by buying, selling and then selling several times in the past two months.
"Are you kidding me?" she said, separating the words for maximum effect. "I wouldn't play. I will never take a cruise again in my life."
Recently, one of her cousins called to say she had bought a stack of Delta stock, which fell. "I said: & # 39; This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard! & # 39;"
As the market has recovered in recent weeks, Orman has become increasingly convinced that we have not reached the bottom.
Partly because it considers the federal response to the coronavirus disastrous. And don't start it in the elections.
“You still have people who want to vote for Trump. You still have people who think he's doing a great job, "she said." I see a trail of devastation that he left, of the lives of people that they won't come back to, won't get their jobs, won't get over it. "
She wants to live in a world where taxes on the rich "skyrocket", even though she no longer has faith in where her dollars are going. "I don't know where the money is going," she said. "None of this makes sense to me."
She wants to believe that "everything happens for the best" and that we will leave a stronger country.
But the most likely diagnosis of how this crisis will worsen, she said, is “the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Excuse."